IT experts say bad bosses neglect training issues

Poor relations with the boss are cited by respondents to a recent survey as the primary reason for quitting a job, – but that bad rapport could signify deeper issues, said one IT industry observer.

The underlying problem is probably managers’ inability to mentor staff, and assess influencing factors like enthusiasm and morale, said Adam Cole, director at Mississauga, Ont.-based Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS).

“In a hectic work environment, it’s easy for a boss to not pay enough attention and not mentor employees.”

Among the 2,687 people recently polled by online employment service, 84 per cent said they left a job because of a “bad boss”. The reasons cited were unfair treatment; being managed by intimidation and fear; and lack of respect for employee rights. A meagre 16 per cent said they quit their job for reasons unrelated to the boss.

In the IT industry, a bad boss is one that places a disproportionate focus on business and project management, and who doesn’t possess the technical savvy to recognize the need for staff technical training, said Cole. The issue of training, although relevant to all industries, he added, is particularly important in IT given the rate at which technology moves. “Skills relevant today will mean nothing three years from now.”

But regardless of the reasons, the IT industry is plagued with a substantially high turnover rate to begin with, said Bernard Courtois, president and CEO of Ottawa, Ont.-based Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC).

Courtois said he can’t comment on how relevant the findings by are to the IT industry , compared to other occupations, because the survey by did not ask respondents to specify their profession. But he did note that IT is a “knowledge business” with skilled professionals who must keep up with new technologies.

If employee turnover in IT is indeed high relative to other industries, said Cole, it’s not necessarily because boss relations are worse – rather, it speaks to the hunger in IT professionals for continuous challenge. “It’s an industry where it’s so easy to slip behind the relevancy if you don’t keep your skills up to date.”

Courtois said the high turnover in IT is due, in part, to the much-discussed IT skills shortage, in that employees are lured by the active recruitment strategies of other companies.

That “ferocious” fight to poach workers from their employer is something Courtois said he hasn’t seen since the “IT boom” days, but the IT skills shortage has brought back the practice.

“Companies are being increasingly driven to make sure they do all they can to retain their employees and then attract some,” he said. “That’s perhaps something that’s more intense in the IT industry than elsewhere.”

But Courtois said it’s also a two-way street in that employers might be canvassing talent from other companies, but employees are also taking advantage of that interest.

The IT skills shortage no doubt contributes to the high turnover as employers seek out other companies’ workers to fill their own vacancies, agreed Cole, adding that poor boss relations and lack of training may fuel resentment and lead workers to defect to other companies, but so do factors like salary and work-life balance.

Courtois suggests companies strive to retain workers by offering interesting, challenging work and a good working atmosphere – something for which IT jobs are generally reputed.

But the problem of turnover doesn’t lie solely with the employer because the employees have a responsibility as well — specifically around voicing concerns and desires about the job, said Cole. He suggests working in tandem with the employer before considering quitting as the first option.

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